In a recent discussion regarding the evangelical doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, an argument was raised which was supposed to be a slam dunk case against the doctrine. The doctrine basically states that the Biblical text is free from error. Some inerrantists have argued that this position is true of the original documents (which we don’t have) and others have stated that the inerrancy is in regards to every thing the Bible purports to speak on—be it science, history, geography; whatever. Now barring all the possible charges that might come up (the discussion can be found here and ranges some five hundred responses) I just wanted to deal with this one bit that came up.
The proposition was this: The Bible speaks about slaves (and slavery in general) as a proper economic model. In no place does the Bible condemn the practice of slavery. Today, we know better: slavery is wrong. If inerrancy was true we would look to slavery as a viable economic model today (much like people did a century and a half ago). Therefore, inerrancy is false.
Firstly, it is possible that Slavery is a viable economic model that can be used across any sociocultural era. There’s a reason why slavery was the backbone of economy for years before the industrial era and then some. Even today, at some level, the cheaper the labor the better the economic ramifications. I don’t say this justifying slavery, but I think a case can be made that it is a viable economic model and if so then the conclusion is false.
Secondly, I don’t think the Bible ever endorses slavery as a proper economic model or as a way of life. The Bible argues for the fact of all humans bearing the image of God, the necessity of showing love and care to one’s neighbors, the value of all human life (even those of a slave), and the fact that all people (whether slave or free) could be incorporated into the cultic community and declared Royal Priests is pretty telling regarding the view of humans. Indeed, in later generations, we hear things in the New Testament where certain slave-owners are called to treat their slaves as brothers and Paul admonishing the believers at Corinth that if they were born a slave to do so properly but if the chance comes to become free; rather do that. Subsequently he tells them not to seek to be slaves. If anything then the Biblical account regulates a practice within a cultural sphere(s) with the hopes of breaking out of the cycle at the Eschaton.
Thirdly, I can’t say that today we know better than to have slaves. If anything, we’ve figured out an economic model where we can absolve responsibility if the corporate person employs tactics that might as well be slavery. That might be too strong a case and maybe indentured servant would be more accurate, but if that is the case we’d be operating with a form of slavery that was closer to that of the ancient near east (and foreign from the American slave trade).
Fourthly, the connection between inerrancy (what the text says is true) and slavery (people can be treated as property) doesn’t justify the employ of the practice. It may be true that they did those things and it may be truth that with slavery, God would want them treated properly; but it no way means that now we must implement slavery. I might know that the F Train arrives at 71st Street continental but that doesn’t mean I have to take the F Train to get to Manhattan; I can take the A, the E, the N, the R and so forth.
[Update while musing: Fifthly; it’s possible that this falls under the category of Hardness of Heart which Christ attributes to the accommodation of divorce. Christ said that in the beginning there was no divorce, but because of the callousness of people Moses made allowance. This speaks toward accommodation, of course, but I don’t know how that would deny inerrancy. ]
I may have missed some other options of why I think the reasoning is false; heck, there may even be a way to set up the statement so that it’s not fallacious and actually speaks against inerrancy. I’ll have to look at it some more to decide though.
I have several verses that look at this topic that I wanted to save to the end for later reference: Gen 9:6; Gen 17; Exodus 20, 21, Exo 25; Lev 22, Lev 25; Numbers 31; Jer 34; Rom 1-5; 1 Cor 7; Col 3; 1 Tim 6; Philemon; James 3;